Imagine being plunged into darkness, upside-down in an underwater escape training simulator cage and then having to find your way up and out of the water as efficiently and safely as possible, before your air ran out. That’s just the kind of exercise 26 Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter crew and pilots were put through recently as part of Emergency Breathing System (EBS) training.

“EBS training can take you outside your comfort zone, but it’s the best practice emergency breathing system used by helicopter emergency services around the world and the first time our crew and pilots have had the chance to experience it,” says Greg Scott, LSV Lifesaving Operations Manager.

“Crew and pilots are equipped with small oxygen canisters, like miniature scuba tanks, which they wear on their life jackets,” says Greg. “Underwater, they can pull out the mouthpiece and breath 10-15 breaths, around 3-4 minutes of additional oxygen time.”

The training took place at the Qantas Training centre in Essendon and was presented by LifeFlight Training Academy, with trainers from the company’s Queensland base who are specialists in helicopter training. As well as the practical exercises, learning outcomes included how to recharge the EBS units, safety checks and prepping the gear.

Isaak Newcombe, LSV Lifesaving Support Officer, who undertook the training, says: “Lots of us hadn’t done scuba training before, so being able to breathe underwater was a new sensation. Being in the dark also made us slow down, so we were forced to go back to what we were taught – rather than opening our eyes and being distracted; we had no choice but to stay relaxed.”

Alongside the EBS training, new to the crew and pilots, they also took a refresher Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) course, which is repeated every three years. Topics covered included pre-flight emergency preparation, sea survival techniques and search and rescue techniques, as well as medical treatments of conditions from hypothermia to dehydration, along with general survivor well-being.

“We’re not expecting an emergency situation like this to ever happen, but we’re as ready as we can be if it does,” says Greg. “It’s about taking proactive steps to mitigate any risks and make sure it’s as safe as it can be for the crew and pilots who are out there every day helping to make our coastline safe for everyone else.”

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